Sunday, November 22, 2015

Green Stuff

Roasted green tomatoes ready for the freezer.
Tomato season ended a couple of weeks ago with the first frosty night. That day I went through the garden harvesting anything usable from the most frost-sensitive plants and ended up with a large basket of green tomatoes.

You already know this because of my fermentation post. Many of those tomatoes were covered in brine and left to sit for a week or so. Very fine fermented food. One shelf in our second refrigerator is filled with jars of fermented vegetables, and I'm still fermenting. A crock of kimchi ripens at this very moment. Right no w I'm waiting for my first ever batch of homemade yogurt to finish fermenting. Next week I'll mix daikon radish with horseradish, and maybe garlic and jalapenos for a clear-your-sinuses sort of pickle.

Anyway, I've already done a fermentation post. This one is titled "Green Stuff." So, green. Green tomatoes. The green tomato pickles are probably our favorite of the fermented vegetables, with lots of good-guy bugs for the belly.

Fermentation isn't the only thing you can do with green tomatoes.
Forget battered and fried. Forget piccalilli (a corrupted form of a spicy East Indian fermented vegetable relish that probably never even whispered to a green tomato). Don't mock mom's apple pie.
Try roasting.

Most of the green tomatoes that didn't get fermented got roasted. Maybe one of us also made another green-tomato curry with a few, but some got roasted. The same as I roast pretty much any vegetable: Place in shallow glass baking dish; drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, or (if I'm feeling decadent) butter or ghee; place in 350- to 400-degree oven until it looks done -- 1 to 2 hours for really juicy stuff like tomatoes shorter for other things. You'll know when it's done.

I packed the roasted green tomatoes into wide mouth pint jars and stuck them in the freezer for later. Last week I pulled out one of those jars and a jar of roasted ripe tomatoes and made a yummy Moroccan style dish. A few of the green tomatoes also got roasted along with the last of the tomatillos and some garlic to make a nice salsa verde.

Four tasty, yummy things to do with green tomatoes that have nothing to do with battering and frying, or mocking mom's apple pie. No one will ever get a green tomato from me again.

On that first frosty night I covered the bell pepper and hot pepper plants because they had so many green fruits on them. I love bell peppers -- red, yellow, orange or whatever color they ripen to. I'm not so keen on the green. But after about a week, I got tired of trying to keep the peppers popping. The plants looked pooped, anyway. A few peppers had some color and I knew they'd ripen on the counter. But what to do with the green ones?
OK, roast them, too.
My husband started cutting up the green bells for the roasting pan and tasted a few in the process. He was skeptical that roasting would improve them much. He gave me a few bites; they were a bit bitter but not obnoxiously so. Still, there is a reason that I like to let my bells ripen. He got ready to compost the whole lot, but I convinced him to keep a few and roast them. I planned to roast some squash or something in a few day, anyway, so I wouldn't be wasting oven heat for just a few peppers.
The roasting took any bitter greenness right out of the peppers, which also got packed into jars for the freezer. We put some of them in our salads. Nice. Now we regret the peppers in the compost.

In that final pepper fury I also found myself in possession of a pile of green jalapeno peppers. Now what... that's right... roast 'em.

Next year I'll also try fermenting the green bells, probably in a vegetable medley. The jalapenos, both red and green, got put in many of the ferments to give them a little extra bite. The possibilities are endless.
Too much green? Nonsense!

Monday, November 9, 2015


The purple-blossomed campanula has released its green into the earth and sky, showing colors hidden during summer's sunlight.

We have such trouble letting go, releasing our hold on things. But take note of the trees. They have released their leaves to the earth, revealing the beauty of their twiggy bones. They do not cling and weep, expressing regret. They simply let go.

The goldenrod, sunflower and aster release their seeds to the wind and earth. This is their purpose, to let go.

And so the gardener in tune with the season releases her harvests of tomatoes, peppers and other summer vegetables. She packs away the final harvests and lets go of the flurry of summer. She lets go and finds beauty in the release. She finds herself breathing. She pauses often in her tasks, which no longer have a hurried pace. She sits and sings lullabies to the descending sun.

It's time to let go.
Let go.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

This is the End...

Eggplant leaves take their final bow after the freeze.
We celebrate Spring and the robust new life that arises.
We celebrate Summer and its chaos of growing things.
We celebrate Autumn and the bounteous harvest.
We dread Winter and the receding of the green.
Hops flowers dried on the vine.

We celebrate green leaves, freshly opened flowers and apples swelling on the tree.

But this is the time of withering. Of seeding. This is the time for rest.
Beauty lies in the arms of decay.
Leaves expose their glorious colors only when life recedes from them and the trees release their hold.
Winter brings rest.
Celebrate the beauty in the withering forms, art created by decline, as well as the recent freeze.
Celebrate the wholeness of the cycling of Life, and Nature's creativity within.

These withered cupplants have stood like ancestral guardians over the wildflower bed since early October.
The path meanders through the Seasons.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fun-filled Fall Fermentation

I love the fall garden! The colors play well with the golds and reds in the woods. Add in the peppers, eggplant and even a few tomatoes still hanging in there and you've got a glorious rainbow of veggies. Carrots, beets, radishes, radicchio and broccoli with a background of kale and broccoli greens. Not pictured are Chinese cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts and all the salad greens.

Many tasty dishes can be made from this bounty, but all of these and many more can be fermented, as well. Fermentation has made my little heart race as of late.

Green beans and long beans fermenting.
Fermenting foods is an ages old method of preserving foods, from wine to sauerkraut, from kimchi to kombucha, from cucumber pickles to pickled eggs, from fermented fish to... the possibilities seem endless.

My first attempt at fermentation using salt and cabbage did not turn out well. We add the salt and pounded the cabbage, covered it and let it sit. However, we did not understand the necessity of having sufficient liquid to cover the fermenting vegetables. Rotted cabbage does not exude a pleasant smell, just so you know.

That was maybe nine years ago and I have attempted brine fermentation since. A few years ago I discovered a method that uses whey extracted from plain yogurt. It uses less salt than the regular brine method and is, as far as I can tell, foolproof. But you must squeeze whey out of yogurt (the resulting thick yogurt "cheese" is quite yummy) and it contains some bit of whey protein that might cause a reaction in someone with a sensitivity to dairy.

But fermenting vegetables not only provides a different way of preserving vegetables, each small serving (use them as condiments, not as whole sides) contains billions of tiny microorganisms that will populate your gut. That's a good thing. These are some of the appropriate types of microorganisms for your gut. These many bacteria and what-have-you are necessary for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. When we don't have enough of them, we suffer malnutrition. When the wrong kinds are most prevalent, we suffer from digestive issues, obesity, mental problems and numerous other problems that don't seem in any way connected to the digestive tract.

Make small batches in quart-size or two-quart-
size, wide-mouth canning jars. Use a half-
pint jar filled with water to weight the veggies
under the brine. Keep in mind that the jar will
sink a little and the jar might overflow.
If that doesn't convince you, fermented foods are plain delicious. Think beyond sauerkraut and cucumber pickles. Think kimchi, fermented green beans, pickled green tomatoes, pickled broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, hot and sweet peppers -- let your imagination run wild.

My fermentation adventures began with cucumbers. I had a few... thousand or so. I offered some to my neighbor who told me that she planned to ferment them. When I expressed interest, she loaned me her copy of "The Art of Fermentation," by Sandor Ellix Katz. This book is almost two inches thick, filled with not so much recipes but lots of information about all kinds of fermenting. Rather than starting my reading on page one, chapter one, I turned to the section on brine fermentation of cucumbers. He provided the ratio of salt to water (approximately 3 tablespoons canning salt per quart of water) and I jumped in.

While slicing cucumbers into my two-gallon crock I simply added fresh dill, garlic and other seasonings I usually use in making vinegar pickles. Then I poured the brine to cover, set a plate slightly smaller than the crock on top and weighted the plate with a glass jar of water. The whole thing was covered with a clean dish towel and set in the corner to ferment. Every couple of days or so you need to check the mess and skim off any scum or surface mold. (If it's white, you're ok, brightly colored molds mean start over and sterilize your container.) After a week, I considered them finished. But you can stop sooner or let it go longer. Taste the cukes and let your tastebuds be your guide as when to quit.

Cover the fermenting vegetables with a
paper towel or clean dish towel to keep
out dust, cat hair, errant mold spores, etc.
My next ferment was green beans and long beans. I tried both raw beans and cooked because my husband doesn't like the taste of raw beans. The taste test, however, indicated that the raw beans are just fine and that a 10-day ferment is better than a 7-day ferment.

Today I started green tomato pickles. Over the weekend I tasted a delectable green tomato pickle. The secret ingredient (shhhh, don't tell anyone) was a hint of smoked salt. This ingredient must be used sparingly, so I used just a couple of sprinkles. Before starting another batch, I'll test to see how that amount works.

Tomorrow -- Kimchi! A Korean style of fermented vegetables. That process is a little different than the above pickles, in which I simply poured brine over cut up and seasoned veggies. But I'll save that for another day. Every Korean family has its own kimchi recipe, so it seems that I have carte blanch to use whatever ingredients I desire. However, one traditional ingredient is Chinese or Napa cabbage, which I planted in order to kimchi.

Otherwise, just go crazy developing all kinds of vegetable mix and seasonings as you ferment. Not only will your tastebuds thank you, but your belly will be happier, too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pears to Perfection

We picked pears a month ago, or more. Because you pick pears before they are fully ripe, I assumed we had a good long while before I needed to "do something" with them. They sat in paper bags in the refrigerator, and every so often I would take one or two out to ripen so I could eat them.

But the gardens have produce blackberries and more blackberries, watermelon, cantaloup and even a few red raspberries. The new apple crop came into the stores and the price hit its annual low. And now we've found cheap pomegranates.

So eating pears has not been a priority.

A week or so ago I went through the bags of pears to make sure none of them needed to be used. Not only did I have to throw out a couple of rotten ones, but all of them were nearly perfectly ripe and ready. What am I going to do with all of those pears?

Not pear sauce/butter. I have several jars of pear sauce I canned two years ago. I am not a sauce-eating kind of gal. Well you can freeze pears, but our two small chest freezers, as well as the freezers in our two refrigerators are full. Full. And kale and other freezable greens are coming in fast. The smaller freezer is already full of fruit and the other has just enough space for freezing greens -- if we eat some of the other stuff already in there.

Jalapeno peppers can be dried, but I prefer to freeze them. Cayennes dry better.
The only option left is to dehydrate them. Fortunately, we've had just enough sunshine for the solar dehydrator to work well. All I had to do was cut, core and slice the pears (cutting out those hard "rocks" that form in them for whatever reason), and then lay them on the screens in the dehydrators. About two or two and a half days later they were dried to perfection, with no discoloration. People often believe that you have to put lemon juice or acetic acid or something on fruit to keep it from discoloring in the freezer or dehydrator, but no, you don't. And if they did brown just a little when dehydrating it doesn't hurt the flavor. The dehydrated pears are quite sweet and will make a wonderful winter treat.

Before I put the last of the pears in the dehydrator I made a small dish of baked pears. I simply sliced pears in a shallow glass baking dish -- make them only two or three layers deep -- and drizzled in  a bit of brandy (just enough to cover the bottom of the dish). I put small dabs of butter around the top of the pears -- not too much -- and sprinkled on garam masala, an Indian seasoning that contains, among many other things, nutmeg and cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. OMG!

Tomatoes are about my favorite -- although not the easiest -- thing to dehydrate. When I planted my Amish Paste Tomatoes this spring, I did so knowing that most of them would be turned into tasty sun-dried tomatoes. They are tricky because they are so juicy. I've had to throw out a few batches of moldy ones. Long, sunny days are required to prevent mold. It seems that the way to turn a forecast of "sunny" into a "mostly cloudy" is for me to put tomatoes in the solar dehydrator. It happens with suspicious frequency.

My last successful batch of dried tomatoes was done when the days were shortening and not as hot, but I brought them in on the first night after a day outside and put them in my little electric dehydrator for a couple of hours, then put them back outside for another two days. Dried to perfection. I blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for one minute, which allows me to easily remove the skins. Then I slice or quarter them. Not too thin, or they'll melt into the dryer screen, and not too large or they will take too long to dry.

 Many things can be dehydrated successfully. I've done plums, summer squash and eggplant. All of my cayenne peppers get dehydrated. Green beans are a common thing to dehydrate, although I don't dry them. This past weekend I told someone that I had kale and other greens coming in from the garden and no space in the freezer. She suggested that I dry the kale and just throw it into soups. That didn't sound terribly appealing, but I will make a test run. If it does well, I'll put dry kale in the pantry instead of the freezer. Most Web sites I visited in search of how to properly dry kale said to stick it in the dehydrator raw; only one said to blanch it first. All recommended also making kale "chips" by rubbing the leaves with oil and sprinkling with salt and other seasonings before dehydrating. We'll see how that goes. I will let you know.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

MORE on Garlic, But the Last

Freshly potted rosemary, NOT garlic. But it goes well in dishes with garlic.
A braid of garlic hanging by the kitchen window might look cool and rustic and deter any vampires prowling around, but it's not the best way to store your garlic.

Different types and varieties have different shelf lives, but all should be kept in a cool, dark place to prevent shriveling and sprouting, as well as being cured properly.

Dig your garlic when all but the top 5 or 6 leaves have died. Don't dig immediately after rain or when the soil is really wet, unless you have no choice. Garlic dug from dryish soil will store longer. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the garlic and then pull it free.

Cure garlic in a shady, open place for about three weeks. I cure mine on a wire shelf rack in the garage. Then cut the stem about an inch from the top of the bulb and place in net bags. Keep in a cool, dark place, but not in the refrigerator. If you want to braid your garlic, soft neck varieties work best. But keep the braids in your cool, dark storage, bringing out one at a time to "decorate" the kitchen, as long as you will use it all in a few weeks.

My neighbor told me he keeps his garlic on an enclosed porch where it doesn't freeze but stays pretty cool. A temperature no higher than 60 degrees gives better storage, but the cooler the better. But not in the refrigerator. (Did I say that already?) I plan to put mine in a cabinet in our attached, but unheated garage.

None of the garlics I've planted ever stored through the winter. They shriveled and/or turned brown by the end of December. I suspect that my storage area was too warm. The pantry where I kept the garlic is open to the kitchen and so stays as warm as the rest of the house. An unused room that you don't heat much could be a good choice.

I hate harvesting lots of lovely garlic bulbs and having to throw out a bunch of them in the middle of winter. You can prepare your garlic for long-term storage if you don't have the best of storage places or otherwise feel you can't use it all before its expiration date. Or if in mid-December you notice the cloves start to shrivel a little.

Chop garlic finely and dehydrate (start dryer at 140 degrees for 2 hours then turn down to 130 and dry until crispy). Store in air tight jars. You can grind it into powder when needed, if that's easier for you to use. Mix it with salt for garlic salt to put on popcorn.

The freezer can be your friend here, too. Blend garlic with olive oil and pack into small jars to freeze. It will stay soft enough to scrape out whatever amount you wish. Never store garlic, raw or cooked, in oil at room temperature as it may grow botulism bacteria and turn deadly. Always freeze it. Commercially canned garlic in oil is prepared under specific conditions and acidified, a process that cannot be repeated properly at home.

Alternately, garlic can be simply chopped and frozen, or frozen as whole, unpeeled cloves. Raw, peeled cloves can be submerged in wine (preferably a dry one, white or red) or vinegar and stored in the refrigerator for up to four months. The flavor permeates the liquid, which can be used as a seasoning.

Are you tired of reading about garlic yet? I think I've said all I want to say, although garlic has such a long history of cultivation and use that much more can be said. Look it up yourself, is what I say.

And notice, I didn't hardly mention vampires at all.

Friday, October 16, 2015

All This Variety

Not all garlic is created equal. First you have different "types" of garlic. Two main ones are soft neck and hard neck types, with the hard necks producing a hard flower stalk. Within those you have even more variation -- artichoke, rocambole, silverskin, porcelain, purple stripe, creole and turban, and maybe some others. Within those varieties are numerous cultivars, I won't even try to guess how many. I've grown at least a half dozen, probably more varieties myself and haven't even scratched the surface. Each type of garlic has different characteristics. Some types are easier to grow, more tolerant of specific conditions, different clove sizes and numbers, better flavor, longer storage, and so on. Cultivars vary a lot in flavor and pungency from complex flavors with little heat to simple flavor and blazing heat, with all variations in between.

I recommend trying different varieties to determine what works best for you and which flavors you prefer. You might like a complex, mild flavor for eating raw and a simpler flavor with lots of heat for its medicinal qualities. When planting, mark where each variety is, then keep each variety in separate net bags so you can identify, compare and assess them. Some have short shelf lives, so you'll want to use those first.

Following is information on the three varieties I will plant this fall.

Polish White, also called "New York White," has a "deep, rich flavor, with only a little bite" according to one source, and grows almost anywhere. It "keeps through the winter" or about six months and is considered early maturing. I'm not sure what "early" means in Kansas, but I often dig garlic anywhere from early June through July.

Polish White produces good size cloves and has fewer really small cloves in the center. That means it probably produces fewer cloves per head than the average artichoke type, but the larger size of cloves is a plus. According to one Web site, Polish White ranks 6-8 on the "garlickiness" scale and 3-4 on pungency. So it has lots of flavor (which one site called "rich, musky and earthy") but little heat, earning the adjective "mellow."

Polish White seems like a pretty standard garlic, good for people who like it, but can't take the heat. It works well in a wide variety of uses -- fresh, cooked, roasted -- and grows reliably.

Tochliavri. Use a pen or felt tip to mark each bulb so you know
which variety you are planting.
Red Toch (Tochliavri) was brought to the U.S. from a village in the Republic of Georgia called -- guess... OK, I'll tell you, Tochliavri. It also is the birthplace of the father of Chester Aaron, a well known garlic expert who has written several books on garlic and grows more than 30 varieties from 17 countries. I hadn't heard of him until I started researching information on Red Toch garlic. You learn something every day.

According the Seed Saver's Exchange catalogue the flavor of Red Toch is the "standard by which all other garlic flavor should be judged." It has a "complex yet delicate" or "rich but mellow" flavor (6-7 on the garlickiness scale, 1-2 on the pungency scale).

It adapts to many growing conditions and, although a soft neck variety, can produce a hard neck when stressed by heat. The heads contain 10 to 18 cloves and will keep for three to six months. Shorter keeping time may be a side effect of its milder flavor. It is good for use in cooking or raw.

Lorz Italian packs the most heat of the three varieties I have. While it ranks 4-5 on the garlickiness scale, its pungency ranks 8 (I presume on a 10-point scale). Adjectives used to describe its flavor include "bold" and "robust." Its bite supposedly increases with age (the garlic's age, not yours). One site noted that its flavor starts out mild and leaves a strong after taste. Its unique flavor earned it a spot in a program designed to preserve endangered heirlooms with unique characteristics.

Lorz provides 12-19 cloves per bulb with "not too many" small interior cloves that store for up to eight months, definitely a "keeper." One pound of this garlic can produce up to 10 pounds of new garlic.

Other garlic varieties I've grown in the past include Music -- a hard neck variety with really large cloves -- Silverwhite, Late Italian (or was it Early?), Metechi (which produced "giant cloves" according to my records), possibly Bogatyr (which I don't remember doing well), and probably a few others I can't remember. I think I grew Georgian Fire once, but I'm not sure. Maybe I just dreamed of growing it because I liked the name.

Pretty much every company that sells vegetable seeds also sells at least a couple of varieties of garlic. I've ordered garlic from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Seed Savers Exchange, Keene Organics, and Nichols Nursery, and probably from a couple of other places. Check out lots of places to compare varieties and prices.

Have fun garlic shopping.